Wheels seals the deal

Savvy vet nets hat trick, Hellebuyck slams the door as Jets rout Avalanche


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To be the best you’ve got to beat the best, and the Winnipeg Jets continue to prove they belong among the NHL’s top clubs.

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To be the best you’ve got to beat the best, and the Winnipeg Jets continue to prove they belong among the NHL’s top clubs.

The Jets put forth arguably their best effort of the season Tuesday, dominating the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, 5-0, at Canada Life Centre.

Blake Wheeler led the way for Winnipeg, with the veteran right-winger scoring his fourth career hat-trick, to go with an assist for a four-point night. Connor Hellebuyck registered 40 saves for his third shutout of the year.

The victory improved Winnipeg’s record to 14-6-1, good enough for second place in the Central Division, one point shy of the Dallas Stars, who have played two more games. The Avalanche dropped to 12-7-1 with the loss and are now four points back of the Jets, with one game in hand.

Let’s take a closer look with some news, notes and analysis from Tuesday’s win.

1) The Jets power play found its footing earlier in the week in a win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, scoring twice on four man-advantages in a 7-2 road win. Winnipeg had gone goalless in nine power plays over the previous four games.

They were back at it again against the Avalanche, with Wheeler giving the Jets a 1-0 lead 20 seconds into their first power play of the game. Winnipeg finished the night with one goal on two power plays.

Jets head coach Rick Bowness hoped the return of centre David Gustafsson, who was sidelined against Chicago owing to injury, would bring some stability to the team’s penalty kill. Bowness figured his club would have their hands full against the NHL’s top power-play, with the Avalanche entering the game with a success rate of 33.8 per cent on the man-advantage.

Winnipeg proved up to the challenge, however, killing off all three Avalanche power plays, with Colorado registering just five shots on net. The Avalanche entered the game with at least one PP goal in their last eight games, going 10-for-34 over that stretch.

“The penalty killers were huge because that is the best power play in the league. And you have to understand the timing of those penalties” said Bowness. “Because if they did get those goals, at the time that they score, now the flow of the game is going at that point. It really would have given them a big lift so our penalty killers did a great job and clearly getting that first power play goal was a big lift as well.”

2) What exactly constitutes goaltender interference in the NHL was back on the menu again after a goal by Mark Scheifele was overturned minutes into the second period.

The play was originally called a good goal, but after the Avalanche challenged the play, the NHL’s command centre determined Wheeler had made incidental contact on Alexandar Georgiev in the crease, “impairing his ability to play his position” prior to the goal. In accordance to Rule 69.1, which states in part, “Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal.”

Wheeler does make some incidental contact, but where the Jets have an argument is that Georgiev had enough time to set himself and make a play on the Scheifele shot that led to the goal. What made it even tougher to swallow for Winnipeg was two games earlier, in an OT win over Dallas, Connor Hellebuyck had his mask removed following contact with the shoulder of Stars forward Jamie Benn, a play that left the Jets netminder sprawling helmetless while Dallas scored. The play was challenged by the Jets and the goal was upheld.

“Didn’t get an explanation,” said a clearly frustrated Bowness. “We’re not allowed to chat. We’re not allowed to talk to the referees after that. If they call it, they call it. Goalie interference calls, those are… yeah.”

3) Give credit to Wheeler and his linemates Mark Scheifele and Cole Perfetti for being the difference in this one. By night’s end, the trio combined for 10 points.

It didn’t take long for the line to make up for the overturned goal. After working the puck deep in Colorado’s zone just seconds later, the puck eventually made it’s way to the blue line, with Josh Morrissey wiring a slapshot past Georgiev at the 3:46 mark to give Jets a 2-0 lead.

Not done there, Perfetti put on a puck handling clinic, waiting out Avalanche defender Samuel Girard before dishing a no-look backhanded pass to Wheeler in the slot to make it 3-0. Scheifele had made a nice cross-ice pass to Perfetti to start the play and the 20-year-old took care of the rest from there, setting Wheeler up for the easy goal.

It was the same story in the third period, as Scheifele, just 1:22 into the frame, finished off a play in close for his team-leading 12th of the season. They then capped off the period with Wheeler’s hat trick goal, which was set up by Perfetti and Scheifele.

Wheeler (3G, 5A) and Perfetti (1G, 4A) are both on three-game point streaks, with Scheifele (2G, 2A) collecting four points over the last two games.

“This is clearly the best he’s played. He’s skating a lot better right now,” Bowness said of Wheeler. “He knows where he’s at in his career and he’s doing everything he can to help this team win and help this team get better. His play is speaking for itself.”

4) It could very well be the best hockey we’ve seen from Morrissey over his seven-year NHL career.

Morrissey has been one of the team’s best defenders for years, but this season his offence has taken centre stage. His second-period goal was his fifth of the year and team-leading 25th point of the season, and it provided a major momentum boost for the home side after the disallowed marker.

The 27-year-old is only 12 points shy of his career best 37 points registered in 79 games last season. Morrissey was an offensive force while playing junior hockey and it’s a great sign to see him excelling offensively at the NHL level.

You could argue no one has benefitted from the coaching change more than Morrissey. Under Bowness, the defence have been given the green light to join the attack and it feels like just the beginning for No. 44.

“There was a lot of that last year, too. Last year was kind of the coming out party a little bit. And now he’s establishing himself as a premiere defenceman in the NHL,” Wheeler said. “We’ve seen it, we’ve seen a lot of it here throughout the years. He’s certainly elevated his game. We’re certainly proud of the way he’s playing.”


Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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